Rosh Chodesh Reflections: Monthly Moments of Inspiration


Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

April 9, 2024

Welcome to Rosh Chodesh Reflections: Monthly Moments of Inspiration, a new blog series brought to you by OLAM. Join us at the start of each month on the Hebrew calendar, as Jewish leaders from around the world explore the intersection of global responsibility and Jewish values, and immerse yourself in the rich Jewish tradition of pursuing justice. 

We are excited to kick off this rosh chodesh series today, as we welcome in the month of Nissan, with a Passover-themed dvar torah from Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, who explains why even today - as Jews around the world are facing extreme challenges - the Jewish People should persevere in their commitment to global development.

A Word of Torah from Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis

There are two foods which when cooked, become harder rather than softer – and there are essential lessons to learn from both.

When the Torah famously recounts the slavery of the Children of Israel in Egypt, it describes the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart with the words, “Kaved lev” – ‘kaved’ meaning ’heavy’, or ’hard’. The Maggid of Mezeritch reminds us that the term ‘kaved’ also means a ‘liver’. The liver is hard due to the amount of blood it contains. It is also one of the two foods that becomes harder once cooked.

Having imposed suffering upon the Hebrew slaves, Pharaoh and the Egyptian people endured the impact of the plagues brought upon them by Hashem. In response, instead of extending a hand of empathy and sensitivity to those who were most vulnerable, the Egyptian monarch chose to harden his resolve towards cruelty and ruthlessness.

But it did not have to be that way. There is another Hebrew word which comes from the same root: it is ‘kavod’, which means ‘honour’. Honour is a character trait of great substance, found in the most worthy of people. Pirkei Avot famously teaches, “Eizehu mechubad?” –Who is an honourable person? And the answer is – “Hamechabed et habriot” – one who gives honour to others. Pharaoh could have become a person of ‘kavod’, of great substance by hardening his resolve towards compassion and by choosing to honour others.

This brings us to the second food, which becomes harder when cooked – the egg. In Jewish tradition the egg is a symbol of resilience and of life. That’s why we have a tradition to eat eggs when in mourning. Its round shape represents the continuation of life, even when grieving for a loved one. That it becomes hard when boiled teaches that when the heat is on in life, we must gather our inner reserves of strength and resilience in order to maintain our commitment to life.

In these times of such profound adversity for the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world, it would be easy to retreat into isolationism and self-preservation. However, itis precisely during periods like this that we must harden our resolve towards global social responsibility. Of course, our inward-facing priorities are absolutely paramount. Never more so than now. However, by extending a helping hand to those in need, regardless of background, religion or nationality, we not only uplift others but also reaffirm our own humanity. In doing so, we embody the timeless wisdom of Jewish tradition and inspire others to join us in the pursuit of a more just and compassionate world.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the UK